Celebrating 15 years of Qseven®: a journey into the history of embedded innovation

Looking back over the years, the progress of technology and the speed with which change has swept through our industry are impressive. It has only been 15 years, but it seems much longer since SECO reached a milestone in the history of embedded computers.

Back in 2008, Intel® was launching the first generation of its Atom® series processors – the Intel® Atom® processors Z500 series – a new, low-power, embedded CPU concept that promised optimal performance. This innovative technology paved the way for an entirely new market, prompting companies to eagerly pursue the development of platforms capable of harnessing the power of these processors. SECO also set out to work, knowing that there was an opportunity to do something new, something that hadn’t been done before. And thus, the idea of creating a new standard for a Computer on Module (COM) was born.

The quest for an open standard

Driven by the spirit of innovation and willingness to explore new technologies, SECO shaped the idea of creating a new design that would maximize the potential of the Intel® platform while addressing market demands that existing COM form factors couldn’t fulfil. But this was the real game-changer: we envisioned an open standard that would be globally recognized, universally adopted by embedded designers, and not tied to any commercial entity. Collaboration was key, and SECO set out to find like-minded partners.

The first company we approached was Congatec, another major European player in the embedded market. Surprisingly, we found that we shared the very same vision of creating a globally relevant open standard, and they were eager to join forces. With the agreement found, it was a matter of starting work on the project, and putting the technical characteristics of this new open standard down on paper. And so, Congatec representatives from R&D, product management, and marketing functions travelled to Arezzo, Italy. The stage was set for an exceptional collaboration.

The birth of Qseven®

“Since this was a community project, we thought it would be best to meet and get to work on neutral ground, avoiding our headquarters,” recalls Fabio Ottonelli, one of the SECO delegates at the meeting and active contributor to the definition of the standard. He adds, “To host the kick-off meeting we decided to go big and chose a picturesque setting: a converted 17th-century monastery nestled amidst the hills of Arezzo.” Teams from both companies spent an entire afternoon sitting around a table in the farmhouse’s wine cellar, discussing the technical specification that would define the new standard. Here, step by step, the Qseven® concept took shape. “Looking back on it today, it was surreal. Two competing companies collaborating on an open project meant for the entire embedded developer’s community, surrounded by bottles of wine felt like the most classic of Tuscan cliché!” Ottonelli adds.

Unveiling the Qseven® concept

As the technical specifications neared completion, the two leading companies agreed to involve a third player, MSC Technologies. All three parties gathered in Germany for one final meeting to finalize the technical specification. The Qseven® standard was thus officially launched.

The name given to this newly created standard, “Qseven,” was drawn from the expression “Quadratic Seven,” symbolizing the square shape and dimensions of the form factor, measuring 70mm on each side. SECO’s first Qseven-compliant Computer on Module was called Quadmo-747, with Quadmo being an obvious analogy to the standard’s name, and the numbers simply following that time’s naming rationale based on the assignment of progressive numbers.

Spreading the Word

From the very beginning, the premise was clear: the Qseven® would be a multi-vendor concept, without for-profit owners, accessible to all and adopted anywhere in the world without any barrier to entry. To turn this vision into reality, dissemination was crucial. Events were organized worldwide, focusing on influential technology hubs like Silicon Valley and Taiwan. In Europe, the involvement of three prominent names in the field acted as a catalyst, garnering attention and support. This dissemination phase proved successful, attracting numerous adherents who eventually joined the Qseven® Consortium, a non-commercial organization dedicated to advancing the use of the Qseven® Computer on Module standard throughout the global embedded computing industry. In 2012 the Consortium merged into the Standardization Group for Embedded Technologies (SGET), which inherited the mission of further developing, communicating, and marketing the Qseven®, but also ratifying new hardware standards for Computer on Modules – as would happen shortly after with SMARC.

Today, 15 years later and after some specs revisions to adjust it to changing market needs, Qseven® continues to be a viable standard for low-power and mobile applications and continues to play its part in SECO’s standard product offerings. Over the past 15 years, however, SECO has also transformed, evolving to keep pace with the digital revolution and the demand for innovation. SECO’s standard product offering has expanded by introducing new form factors – SMARC®, COM Express®, COM-HPC® – increasingly capable of intercepting the performance, flexibility, and connectivity needs of a market that is constantly evolving and being pulled toward increasingly digital scenarios. What has not changed is the collaboration in the activities of SGET – of which SECO is still a contributing member – who keeps working to raise understanding of the value of standardization for embedded technologies. Proven by the recent ratification of a new standard, the Open Standard Module™ (OSM™) is an ultra-miniature form factor for directly solderable and scalable embedded computer modules. Most importantly, SECO has kept its proactive and pioneering spirit, pushing us to always work with passion and determination to keep the engine of innovation running.